Independent thinking

One of the skills that are important today is independent thinking. However, The traditional education often forces the students to follow a rigid standard view or follow the teachers’ view instead of encouraging them to have their own view. That is why many students only give the teachers what they think the teachers want to hear instead of having a new idea during the class discussion.

Independent thinking is the desire of a person to believe that the information that he or she expresses is correct or reasonable. Today, students should learn to have their own view based on personal observations and experiences rather than just follow the views of others. It helps students to be active rather than passive in their processing of information. It also helps students to know how to analyze facts and data and developing their own view rather than being told of what to do. Independent thinking is important because it is the foundation of creativity and innovation.

If you look into successful innovators, you can see that they all having their view independently. Steve Jobs created the personal computer by NOT following the traditional thinking that a computer must be big (The IBM’s doctrine.) Bill Gates dropped out of Harvard to start Microsoft by NOT following the traditional thinking that the completion of a degree from Harvard was the only way to succeed. Jeff Bezos focused on creating more values and convenience for customers by NOT following the traditional thinking that profits were the most important for a company’s success.

An education system that encourages independent thinking can foster more creativity and new products than others. For example, there are more successful startups and innovations from the U.S. education system than others. It explains why China ‘s education system does not produce innovations but mostly “copy, steal, and duplicate” others’ ideas. The reason is traditional Chinese education do NOT allow students to think independently since they are very young but must follow their teachers’ strict instruction all the way to college. Although many Chinese students study hard and do well in school, not many of them are innovators and be able to create something new. Many Chinese innovators today are being educated in the U.S. or Europe.

Students often ask me: “Is it possible to develop independent thinking even after college? I told them: “Of course, but to do that, you need to read more, learn more, and Think critically about all the information that you have to develop your own view. You need to keep an open mind to other’s views and analyze them to see whether you agree or disagree with them. If you continue to do that without bias then overtimes, you can develop a sharp independent view.”

Today, technology companies encourage workers to develop their independent thinking to create new innovations. For example, Google gives its software engineers one day a week to work on anything that they want. At Google, many workers work, eat, discuss and share idea all the time. The company provides “Free foods” in every building so workers do not have to go out to eat but can stay at work to eat and continue discussing their ideas. Google management understand that this “informal sharing of a new idea when eating” is better and more productive than any type of formal meetings. They encourage workers to form teams around their new ideas based on their own interests without managers interference. They let employees post their own ideas on a company-wide message board where everyone can read, add a comment, or decide to join the group to further develop it into a new product. The same thing also happens in many U.S. universities where students often post their idea on the school bulletin board. For example, “I am working on an app to search global market for better prices for coffee growers in Ecuador and Costa Rica, if you want to join my team, – call this phone number XXX” Or “I am designing a portable weather station for poor farmers in Sub-Sahara countries, need software developers to help build the product. Please contact XXX.” According to the entrepreneur study group, each year, over a thousand new innovations are created by university students in the U.S. alone.


  • Blogs of Prof. John Vu, Carnegie Mellon University